Google paid content system spotted in the wild

But only in Italy. Make of the reliability of that what you will:

La Repubblica says that, with Newspass, people will be able to log-in to the sites of participating news publishers using a single login. Publishers will be able to designate what type of payment they want to accept, including subscriptions and micropayments. People who find content from participating publishers in Google search will see a paywall icon next to that content and be able to purchase access directly from there using Checkout.

via A Google Paid Content System For Publishers May Be Coming By Year-End | paidContent.

Bloody-minded zigging-not-zagging

Last Friday night on the way back from a pretty disappointing Nouvelle Vague gig at the Roundhouse a Times subscription ad caught my eye. It was offering free delivery before 7am seven days a week to anyone living inside the M25. Of a newspaper. You know, those big, floppy paper things that everyone says won’t be around much longer?

I said to my wife “you know, if the Guardian offered that, I’d subscribe like a shot.” And she said “knowing you, you’ll have signed up to the Times by the end of the weekend, just because it’s new.”

She knows me so well. So, from next Sunday, I’ll be getting the Times delivered to my house for the grand total of 8 quid a week. No contract, and I can change my options online at any time. If I want just one paper a week, I can get it. If I want to suspend for several weeks, I can. And, as has been said many, many times before, that’s a week’s worth of newspapers for the price of four tall Starbucks lattes.

Now, before this turns into a commercial for what is still a newspaper owned by Big Bad Murdoch, I should just say that I can’t understand why the Guardian has never offered this. It’s been discussed endlessly internally, and for the life of me I can’t recall anyone giving me a single good reason why they shouldn’t do this in my five years there. It’s not going to save the newspaper industry, but surely there are, say, 20,000 people living within the M25 who’d be willing to sign up to receive the paper? At least at the weekends?

Also, worth adding that the Times make a big deal of their “clubs” when you sign up. You get free membership of their Culture or Travel clubs, and I admit to glazing over when they rolled off the list of benefits. But it took up at least a third of my phone call with them.

We shall see. But (as I’ve said here before) I already spend much more on magazine subscriptions in a year than I do on the BBC licence fee. I like the feel of print-on-paper with my breakfast. Try as I might, clicking on a website while I munch on porridge or toast has just never done it for me. I admit to being quite excited that, from next week, a crisp newspaper will be on my doorstep every morning. It makes me feel like a grownup, to be frank (the delivery bit, mind, not the Times bit. The Guardian is a much more grown-up newspaper).

When Google’s scale means only Google can do it

This morning’s Google News is that they’re preparing a micropayments system for online publishers. Actually, it’s a payment system that’s going to be used to take cash from users in return for granting access to various online publications (read URLs, presumably), and most people who know what they’re talking about know that subscriptions is a better model than micropayments, so this is in fact a subscriptions system that can do micropayments. But just as newspaper journalists say “Twitter” when they mean “social media”, online commentators say “micropayments” when they mean “The End of Free.” ‘Twas ever thus.

Anyway, the thing that struck me about this story is that, technically, anyone could have done this at any time in the last decade. eMeta had a technology that did exactly this and which is still in use in some places (it did power 4oD’s payments system, for example, before the archive was opened up and went free).

So this isn’t a technology story – it’s a reach story. What will make this work, if it does work, is Google’s scale. The newspaper industry is never going to get itself together to build something cooperatively. The laughable idea that the British government might do it is barely worthy of a mention but is definitely worth a chuckle.

No, the only way a system like this might work is if it’s put in front of enough users all at once in something like a coherent, planned way. And, I would argue, only Google can do this. Maybe Facebook, one day, but Facebook’s never going to be about monetising attention flow the way Google does.

So, what does this suggest as to the health of the online competitive space, when a key revenue platform which could underpin the future of online publishing might rely on the business planning of a single corporate entity? A while ago, we were all pretty exercised by the idea that Microsoft might control DRM and thus be the gatekeeper to the world’s digital content. That didn’t happen, perhaps thanks to a combination of YouTube, Apple, the MP3 format and self-publishing. But if, in this disaggregated world, only one company can operate at commercial scale, we’ve got a bit of a problem, have we not?

What media costs

Here’s a thought which occurred to me yesterday: I spend almost as much each year on the New Yorker and Vanity Fair as I do on the BBC.

Is this a: mad, b: inevitable, c: unsustainable or d: all of the above?

(For those who hate the New Yorker and/or Vanity Fair, simply substitute The Economist and Private Eye. Will end up coming to the same thing. Almost).